To quote its narrator, Mara, Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer is “boom-boom bonkers.” Students in Mara’s senior class are spontaneously combusting, not so much bursting into flames as bursting into bits. Viscous bits. And the beginning of Spontaneous bursts with crackling energy, energy built of the conversational quality of Mara’s glib voice, energy built of an undeniably original premise. Indeed, the first one hundred pages of Spontaneous were explosively funny. (Oh, you thought I was above such a pun? You were wrong.)
Why are the only students exploding members of the Covington senior class? And why only some of these students? What could be the common factor among these seemingly disparate victims? While at first it seems as though the fault may be in their stars, Spontaneous verges into stranger things, as a government-mandated quarantine of the senior class introduces a possible X-Files-like conspiracy, complete with a spooky FBI agent who dresses like Scully in one of the early seasons.
Did I mention bonkers? On the one hand, Spontaneous reveals the anxieties of high school students everywhere, bursting to shed their adolescent skins and become adults. Prohibited substances, first love with enigmatic boyfriends of sketchy provenance, friendships strained, broken, and sometimes ultimately redeemed, prom-night epiphanies. But on the other hand, visceral and permanent disappearances. Viscera everywhere. And given the viscera everywhere, one should perhaps not have expected a tidy resolution.
Spontaneous is a messy book, and Mara’s narrative voice will surely annoy some readers. But I enjoyed watching her manage her survival through the combustible hazards of high school and adolescence.